A few years ago, I shared the news that our Golden Retriever, Misty, had been diagnosed with a heart murmur. This past Sunday, I held my beautiful girl in my arms as her heart beat for the last time. I won’t get into a theological debate about whether or not she’s waiting for me in Heaven. That’s one of the many things beyond my comprehension. What I do know is that we could all learn to be better Christians by emulating our canine friends. Here’s how my girl brought the teachings of the Bible to life…
Begin each day showing your love for those around you.
“Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!” (Song of Songs 2:10-13)
I start each morning with God. I read the daily Mass readings along with several reflections and meditations, and then I say a daily prayer. Afterward, I usually turn on the morning news and catch the headlines before getting up and heading to the gym. In those first moments of my day, when the sun is barely over the horizon, my Misty always found her way to Ken’s empty pillows (he’s a very early riser), stretched herself out the length of the bed, and laid her head on my chest. I was her person, and she reminded me every day how much I meant to her. Now, I wonder, do I give my human loved ones as much love and attention in the mornings as Misty gave me?
Practice patience and tolerance.
“Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other.” (Ephesians 4:2)
We brought Rosie home when Misty was two years old, wanting Misty to have a canine companion. Misty was almost beyond her puppy years, though Goldens always seem to think they’re still puppies. Rosie climbed on Misty, chewed on her, stole her toys, and demanded everyone’s constant attention (she still does). Misty put up with anything and everything that puppy threw at her. Misty’s small growls were teaching moments rather than growls of anger. As Rosie grew older, she learned from Misty when it was time to play and when it was time to rest, curled together in an unquestionable show of love.
Put others needs before your own.
“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
Rosie is a rather needy dog. For some reason, she won’t go outside alone, day or night. When she needs to go, she whines until we get up to let her out, but unless Misty is with her, she will stand at the door and refuse to take care of business. By the age of nine, with her heart growing weaker each day, Misty often had no desire to accompany Rosie on her late night walks to the ‘outhouse.’ All we had to do, though, was say, “Misty, Rosie wants to go out,” and Misty would tiredly make her way to the door. She would walk with Rosie, however near or far the younger chose to go, sometimes relieving herself and other times, simply being Rosie’s companion. Now, it’s the rest of the family sacrificing self to walk with a friend in need.
Share what you have with others.
“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
Misty never met a stuffed animal she didn’t like. For her, they were objects to carry around and to lay her head on. We’re not sure what she had against button eyes, but before any plush animals could be trusted, she had to tear out their eyes and leave them for me to step on. At some point, Rosie also discovered that these soft toys were great fun to carry around. Each time Misty claimed one as hers, Rosie had to have it. Sometimes I think Rosie would be great at espionage. She liked to follow Misty, watch for her to release the desired animal, and then sneak in on the power play and scoop it up without a sound. On her part, Misty would simply walk away, leaving the toy with her friend. Believe it or not, she was the same way with chew toys and even ham bones. If Rosie wanted it, Misty was happy to oblige.
Enjoy every moment God has given you.
”This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.” (Psalm 118: 24)
Misty left us at 10:30 in the morning on a glorious summer day. An hour before, I opened the door to find two wet dogs lounging in the sun. No doubt at Misty’s prompting (we know it was always Misty’s idea) the two dogs snuck across the street to swim in the creek. It was Misty’s favorite thing to do in the world. No matter what we did, on days that were the slightest bit warm, she would find her way to the water. She loved to play, run around the yard with Rosie, go on walks, and throw herself on the grass and roll back and forth before stretching out to soak up the sun. I hope I leave this world knowing that I sought joy in the simplest things and that just an hour before passing, I’m able to do the thing I love most.
Greet everyone you meet with enthusiastic joy.
“I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12)
Whether I’ve been out of the country for weeks or just at the gym for an hour, Misty and Rosie never fail to show their excitement when I return. Sometimes, Misty would be so excited to see me, and others, that she would leap up and do twirls in the air. I’m not kidding. Her entire seventy-pound body would leave the ground and spin like a top. If she was outside, she would jump up from her favorite outside napping place on the front porch, jump over the steps, and tear across the lawn, Rosie trailing behind, to meet me when I opened my car door. What a world it would be if we all greeted each other with such unbridled joy!
Forgive and Forget.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Of course, there were also times when Misty should not have been happy to see me. There were times I was running late and left the house without feeding her, yelling upstairs as I hastily departed or sending a family text that the dogs needed to be fed. There were times Misty wanted nothing more than to go on a boat ride with us, recognizing what was going on as we gathered the gear, but I told her no and closed her in the house. There were too many people, or we were docking and eating out, and the dogs would have to stay home. There were times I didn’t pay as much attention to her as I should have, shooing her away because I was too busy or too tired. No matter what I did or didn’t do, she always came back, ready to give me another chance.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)
Of course, all of those traits Misty exemplified add up to the most important thing that she taught me, and that is to love unconditionally. Those we love will sometimes be impatient and intolerant. At times, they may be selfish with their time, their resources, their toys. They won’t always be in a good mood or greet us with joy and enthusiasm. Sometimes we may find it hard to forgive and forget, and so will they. But, above, all, we must love them for whom they are and for whom they help us to be. We must love others like our dogs love us.
As I type these words, there is no companion at my feet. Rosie remains in her claimed spot beside my chair, not yet ready to move to Misty’s coveted place under my desk. I can move around easier, not bumping my feet into anyone or rolling the chair over a tail, but that gives me no comfort. I would give anything to feel the brush of that long, thick fur on my ankles. Other than an empty bowl and a handful of button eyes, Misty left me no objects with which to remember her when she met her earthly sunset, but she taught me lessons that I hope to never forget. I love you, my girl. Rest In Peace.
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What I was writing about a year ago this week: Seeing Through the Forest to the Trees.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction.
Amy’s latest book, The Devil’s Fortune, is based, in part, on her family history and is garnering many five star reviews.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).